Political rivals look to 2012
Published: Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 05:10
Chris Lehane, a Democratic political consultant, and Steven Schmidt, a Republican political strategist, put party lines aside and shared the Mitchell Hall stage Wednesday night.
The two, described as "strange bedfellows" by director for the Center for Political Communication Ralph Begleiter, made up this week's double-booked National Agenda lecture series.
They collaborated to discuss the 2012 presidential election and growing negativity in American politics, as well as past and potential Republican candidates.
Lehane, who served as a spokesman and lawyer for the Clinton administration, began the discussion by evaluating President Barack Obama's potential for reelection.
"Every once in a while you get what I would call more of an underdog or a gray type of an election," Lehane said. "The underlying data, particularly the economic data, would suggest that the party in power would have a challenging time getting reelected, but that there's certain dynamics in play that make the election winnable."
Those dynamics, he said, include trust in Obama and people's belief in his leadership. On the Republican side, Lehane said he sees "significant flaws" in the candidates he considers frontrunners for their party's nomination, current Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.
Lehane conceded that the economy's current performance is at such low levels that make getting reelected historically unlikely, but believes Obama has a realistic chance to continue calling the White House home.
"No president with this type of economic data has been reelected other than someone with the initials F-D-R," Lehane said. "But Obama is someone who has made history literally through his entire career."
Schmidt, who is currently Vice Chairman for Public Affairs at the public relations firm Edelman, then offered his own prognosis, also focusing on the economy.
"I think it's going to be the meanest campaign that any of us have ever lived through," Schmidt said. "Because when the economy is like it is and your approval numbers are in the thirties, the only way you can win is by disqualifying your opponent."
Senior Steve Talay, who attended Wednesday's lecture, said he doesn't agree with the hype about increased negativity in the upcoming election.
"There was no short supply in the election before, but I'm not sure if it'll be any different," Talay said. "I feel like people are blowing it out of proportion."
He said he was impressed the two speakers were able to move past their differing political views, sit together on stage and engage in discussion.
"I think they were both interesting and got along well, which was nice to see," Talay said. "Two people from different ends of the political spectrum acting politely and amicably, and having a real conversation."
Schmidt offered his thoughts about past Republican political candidates. He called former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin a "reality show star," and estimated that former senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell was, "no more qualified to be in the United States Senate than my four-year-old."
Schmidt said, however, that he was intrigued by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a potential presidential candidate. He said the university alum has been one of the "two most effective governors in the country over the last two years." Christie has yet to declare his candidacy.
"If he jumps into the race, I think it scrambles the entire card. Immediately, I think he becomes the Republican frontrunner," Schmidt said. "If he goes out there and communicates effectively, he's going to have a very good shot."
Lehane said Christie is "clearly a potential game-changer" and thinks he has done a better job articulating his message than other potential Republican candidates. His inexperience in national politics, however, concerned Lehane.
"It takes someone of an unusual talent to be able to get into this race without ever having played at this level," Lehane said. "You're going from the Little League to game seven of the World Series, with people throwing 100 miles per hour at your head. That's a big step up, and if he's able to handle it, that's part of the test of being a president."